Monday, July 25, 2011

Amy Winehouse - Back To Black

It's okay to grieve for Amy

I loved Amy Winehouse. She was badass, hardcore and beautifully defiant, yet with a stoic vulnerability. All that came through in her brassy singing voice, song lyrics and confident stage presence.

When I first heard “Rehab,” it knocked me out. The song had the infectiously catchy feel of early 60s Motown, but with contemporary sensibilities in its unusual title and lyrics. I downloaded the Back to Black album and found every song to be a gem. The melodies revived the bouncy innocence of big, soulful girl groups like the Ronnettes and Shangri-Las, while the lyrics went deeper with blatant references to sex and substance abuse. The jaunty feel of Rehab belies the sadness buried within.

I don't ever wanna drink again
I just ooh I just need a friend
I'm not gonna spend ten weeks
have everyone think I'm on the mend

It's not just my pride
It's just 'til these tears have dried

I’ve heard the naysayers spouting epithets like “skank” and “crack whore.” Trash talking has circulated for the past few years as media emphasis has shifted from Amy’s dazzling talent to her destructive life choices. Yes, she did drugs, had run-ins with the law and maybe wasn’t the nicest person in her personal life, but I chose to focus on her talent. I would defend her when others denigrated her.

Unfortunately, her story ended as I feared it would. Hopefully, people will still be listening to Amy’s dynamite Back to Black album 20 years from now and see her, not as an addict, but as an artist. Many people feel that way now. Sadly, along with the on-line expressions of grief, there are smug, self-righteous remarks: “She did it to herself.” “It’s her own fault.”

I suppose since Amy made some bad choices, her life is less important than others. Why would anyone mourn for her? Yeah, I could see myself saying, “It’s too bad about your son Justin, but he did get that DUI two years ago and I heard about that hit he took from a joint at a party in 2007 so he has no one to blame but himself for dying.”

Another on-line comment said something like, “My friends and I get up in the morning, do our jobs, obey the law, but some rich celebrity crack whore OD’s and everyone’s crying about it.”

Makes sense. I could imagine saying, “Well it sucks that your brother Jesse died, but he called in sick with a hangover too many times. Why are you mourning him? My friends and I have such a better work ethic than he did.”

And why go on about Amy Winehouse when a terrorist gunned down close to 70 kids in Norway? Of course I see the logic in this statement. For example, if a father lost his daughter to some disease, I might say, “Why are you grieving? She was only one person. How can you mourn her when there are children dying from war and famine in Somalia?”

I’ve heard it all before. “Why are you so depressed? Why would you contemplate suicide? I know a fellow who’s dying of cancer and only has a year to live?”

Well, there is no rationality in despair. A person living with depression – whether its acted out through crying, cutting, alcoholism, drug abuse, whatever – is existing within a private hell. Everyone has flaws and everyone – I don’t care how smart he or she is – has done a stupid, illogical, completely irrational thing at least once in his or her life, and most likely more than once. Everyone – rich, poor and in-between – has problems.

Some people – due to traumatic experience, an imbalance of serotonin in the brain, a genetic pre-disposition to addiction or any number of reasons – have a more difficult time coping with life. If a person cannot overcome her demons, if a life is wasted by drugs or depression, it’s a tragedy whether that person is a homeless denizen of the streets or Amy Winehouse.

And yes, it is possible to grieve the death of a rich famous celebrity without being insensitive to the horrors going on in the world.

Was Amy Winehouse dysfunctional? Sure, but no more dysfunctional than a society that craves the lurid and scandalous, then breaks out in puritanical bombast.

She may have used poor judgment, but I bet her music helped someone out there get over a bad relationship. Maybe some awkward-feeling teenage girl developed self-confidence, listening to her sing Valerie. That’s what music, the arts, culture does. It’s a bridge that enriches lives and builds understanding. In her own way, Amy Winehouse brought love into the world.

How many loud-mouth, sanctimonious, phony hypocrites can say that?